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Play and Defend Better: for improving players

It’s OK to return partner’s suit…except….

When it’s wrong! Helpful advice? Not really.

Defence can be hard (another unhelpful comment!), One factor which can make it easier is when our partner makes a bid. Today’s problem comes in three parts, with the first the hardest. So, here comes the situation with only the declaring side in the bidding. You are sitting East:

East Deals
N-S Vul
3 2
10 4 3
K 4 3
K Q 10 6 2
   
N
W   E
S
 
Q 8 7 5
9 5
9 8 2
A 8 7 4
West North East South
  Dummy You  
    Pass 1 
Pass 1 NT Pass 2 
Pass 2  Pass 4 
All pass      

 

Your partner, West, led Diamond-smallQ which went around to declarer’s ace. Next came Spade-smallA, Spade-smallK and Spade-smallJ from declarer’s hand with your partner contributing Spade-small6 and then Diamond-small5, then Diamond-small6. What do you play next?

At the table, East played Diamond-small9 and an unmakeable contract became unbeatable.

Before we show you all 4 hands, we will ask you the same question with slightly different bidding sequence:

East Deals
N-S Vul
3 2
10 4 3
K 4 3
K Q 10 6 2
   
N
W   E
S
 
Q 8 7 5
9 5
9 8 2
A 8 7 4
West North East South
  Dummy You  
    Pass 1 
2  Pass Pass 2 
Pass 2  Pass 4 
All pass      

 

Same opening lead: same sequence of cards. What do you play when in withSpade-smallQ?

Our third question is after the same opening lead and sequence of plays but the bidding was:

West              North             East                South

                                                Pass                 1Spade-small                 

3Diamond-small                  Pass                Pass                 3Heart-small           

Pass                3Spade-small                  Pass                 4Spade-small

where 3Diamond-small is a weak jump overcall. What do you play when in with Spade-smallQ?

The answer to all three questions is the same though the explanation as to why may be easier to understand in our third and maybe second sequences.

In the third sequence, West showed at least a six-card diamond suit. After trick 1, you know it was 6. Therefore, by returning a diamond you are giving declarer a discard on the Diamond-smallK. That discard may not be significant but it might…and it was!

East Deals
N-S Vul
3 2
10 4 3
K 4 3
K Q 10 6 2
6
A J 2
Q J 10 7 6 5
J 5 3
 
N
W   E
S
 
Q 8 7 5
9 5
9 8 2
A 8 7 4
 
A K J 10 9 4
K Q 8 7 6
A
9
West North East South
  Dummy You  
    Pass 1 
Pass 1 NT Pass 2 
Pass 2  Pass 4 
All pass      

 

Away went the club on the Diamond-smallK and all the defence could take was two heart tricks and your Spade-smallQ.

Where West overcalled 2Diamond-small, declarer might have had a second diamond as the overcall could have been a 5-card suit…but it might be a six-card suit. Therefore, do not take a risk. Also, you know that your partner must have several more high-card points than just Diamond-smallQJ for their 2Diamond-small overcall. Those points are not in either black suit. There is only one suit in which they can be. Therefore, it is not only advisable but also necessary to switch to a heart: the diamond return is not safe.

Of course, it might be and where West did not bid at all, West might only have a 4-card diamond suit….but they might not. That’s why it is harder without any bid from your partner. However, that club is threatening in two ways, possibly the suit declarer would like to use for tricks once the ace has been knocked out but significantly not played yet by the declarer. In either scenario, it is better to switch to a heart.

You could cash the Club-smallA and then play your diamond but setting up the Club-smallKQ for tricks might not be a good idea. Switching to a heart at trick 5 is best to cover any shape of the actual South hand.

At the table, West would win the ace and play a club themselves (hopefully, they, too, will see the potential danger of playing a second diamond.). You win your ace….and play a second heart. The Heart-smallJ must be the 4th trick for the defence.

There was, though, an added reason, available after all three sequences, as to why why returning a second diamond might be a rather bad idea. It might have come as a surprise to you to score your Spade-smallQ. Why did declarer not play their second diamond across to dummy to take a spade finesse? They might have been saving that entry to say take a heart finesse....or just maybe they could not get to dummy at all.

It’s OK to return partner’s suit…except….when the bidding and play suggests it is or may be dangerous to do so….or when it seems right to switch. It is not always easy to identify when these situations occur...and so as we know "Defence can be hard"..or maybe we should substitute the word "is " for "can be" !

A word on the bidding. In the first and second sequences above, South might have bid 3Heart-small at their second turn and even bid 4Heart-small in the third sequence after the 3Diamond-small jump. What is definitely true is that in the first sequence given, the actual one at the table, South’s third bid, after their partner’s 2Spade-small preference, should have been 4Heart-small and not 4Spade-small. With three hearts and only two spades, North would have chosen to play in 4Heart-small, a contract which cannot be beaten even with two trump and a club loser.

 Richard Solomon

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